On Laity Sunday


This Sunday for the first time in a long while (perhaps ever?) we will be celebrating Laity Sunday in our morning worship service.

What does that mean? What is “laity” anyway?

In church lingo, everyone is either clergy or laity — clergy are those who have been ordained by the church and set aside to do the specific work of serving communion, baptizing, teaching and preaching, while laity are … well, everyone else! Laity comes from the Greek word “laos,” which simply means people, crowd, nation, or congregation. When we use the word “laity” now, it generally means not just any random group of people, but God’s people, the new people who have been brought into the community which Jesus Christ formed.

However, there’s a dirty little secret about clergy and laity; there is no Biblical basis for this division! The idea that some people are supposed to do God’s work while everybody else has to get on with living ordinary life is not something that Jesus would have taught. In the early church, everyone had a role to play; everyone participated wholeheartedly in the work of spreading the good news of Jesus.

Of course, as the movement grew it became clear that some people needed to dedicate themselves full-time to the work of leading specific faith communities.

But over time, church leaders became more and more elevated in status over the rest of their congregations. They began to accumulate wealth, take on big titles, and enjoy social and political power. This is especially unfortunate because Jesus would never have approved of the kind of status and privilege that these church leaders enjoyed.

In fact, he is recorded as saying to the disciples, “You know that among the Gentiles the rulers lord it over their subjects, and the great make their authority felt. It shall not be so with you” (Mark 10:42). Another time, he explicitly orders them not to give themselves big titles: “Don't let anyone call you 'Rabbi,' for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters” (Matt. 23:8).

Eventually, ordinary churchgoers began to believe that there were two kinds of Christians — the good Christians, who became priests, monks or nuns, and the ordinary, run-of-the-mill Christians, who had to live ordinary lives in the real world, and thus could be forgiven for living less-than-holy lives. Or to put it another way — clergy and laity.

Fortunately, Martin Luther and the Reformers exposed this thinking to be inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching. They began to introduce “ordinary Christians” to the idea that everyone can be a serious disciple of Christ, and that every one of us has spiritual gifts and talents to use on behalf of the common good.

John Wesley continued this emphasis by encouraging laypersons to preach and teach, as well as perform other tasks usually left to clergy. His teaching on sanctification and Christian perfection clearly implied that laity and clergy alike were called to holiness.

That’s your brief history lesson on the clergy/laity division in the church. Fortunately, we United Methodists have attempted to keep Wesley’s teaching alive. In our Book of Discipline, one of the first sections is titled, “The Ministry of All Christians,” and it includes this critical sentence: “All Christians are called through their baptism to this ministry of servanthood in the world to the glory of God and for human fulfillment.”

Notice the phrase all Christians.

Not just the preacher. Or the children’s minister. All Christians.

That means you.

Lest you think I’m overstating the case, here’s a line from the very next paragraph: “Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. The witness of the laity, their Christ-like examples of everyday living as well as the sharing of their own faith experiences of the gospel, is the primary evangelistic ministry through which all people will come to know Christ and The United Methodist Church will fulfill its mission.”

Again, I would point out that this text says that the witness of the laity is the primary evangelistic ministry through which the church will fulfill its mission. Not the pastor’s ministry. Not the staff’s ministry.

But yours. You, the people.

We clergy aren’t here to do all the work. Rather we’re here to assist you in recognizing the work to which you have been called as God’s people.

We clergy aren’t here to do all the evangelism. Rather we’re here to help you tell your faith story so that others might come to know Jesus.

We clergy aren’t here to do all the pastoral care. Rather we’re here to teach you how to care for your neighbors.

We clergy aren’t here to do all the teaching. Rather we’re here to give you the tools you need to teach.

We clergy aren’t here as missionaries. Rather we’re here to teach you how to be missionaries.

How are we doing?

Revisiting Jesus' Baptism


    I preached about the baptism of Jesus last Sunday. As one person was leaving the sanctuary, she shook my hand and said, “I’ve always wondered why Jesus was baptized in the first place. Jesus didn’t have any sins to repent for and he didn’t need to have any sins forgiven.”
    It’s a very good — and popular — question. Almost every commentary written about the gospels has to address this matter, since Christianity traditionally holds that Jesus was sin-less.
    For one thing, scholars across the board agree that this event actually took place. The fact that all four gospels tell the same story lend credence to the idea that Jesus really was baptized by John. It appears to be a very important story to the followers of Jesus.
    So why was Jesus baptized?
    I’ll be honest; I think this is a misleading question. It assumes that Jesus knew he was sinless, or conscious of his status, when he was baptized. I think this story is best read as Jesus’ own call story. This is the event in Jesus’ life which jolted him into awareness of who he was, and what he was called to do.
    You may have noticed that the gospels are extremely light on details of Jesus’ life before his baptism. All we have are birth stories from Matthew and Luke, and a story about Jesus in the temple as a 12-year old (Luke 2:41-52), and those stories are all of dubious historicity.
    The truth is that nothing is really known about Jesus before he was baptized. He came down to the Jordan River that day to see and hear John the Baptist. He was moved by John’s proclamation, decided that he wanted to be part of John’s movement, and went down into the water with everybody else to be baptized.
    But when he came up out of the water, something happened. He saw into heaven, he saw the Spirit of God descending and entering him, and he heard God’s voice saying to him, “You are my Son, my beloved; in you, I am well pleased.”   
    What happened in the Jordan River was the defining event of Jesus’ life, up to this point. This is his coming out party, his debut, his “burning bush” moment. From this time forward, Jesus begins to live into the reality of who he is. He begins to understand more and more about his calling and his task; he starts to speak and act with authority.
    I think he didn’t fully understand his identity before the baptism; he didn’t know who he was or what he was supposed to be doing. I don’t believe this is a heretical idea; the orthodox belief is that Jesus was fully divine and fully human. To be fully human means to have knowledge which is limited to one’s own experience. Until Jesus experienced God’s call, he couldn’t have known precisely who he was.
    The more important question that this story raises is whether or not each one of us has heard God’s call upon our lives. God didn’t call only Jesus; no, the New Testament is full of stories of men and women who recognize — or not — God’s call and then act — or not — upon it.
    I believe that God has called every one of us — man, woman, and child — to a life full of meaning, fulfillment, and grace. Each life has its own unique bent; some, like myself, are called to ordained ministry, others are sent into the corporate work place, while others are called to the teaching, healthcare, or law enforcement professions, just to give a few examples.
    Yes, your life has its own special divine calling. You are the only one who can follow it. You are the one chosen by God to fulfill God's own particular mission.
     It's a high calling. But you are equipped for it. And so am I.

Good News ONLY

Would you like some good news? Yeah, so would I.

So I’d like to announce that this edition of the Kessler Park UMC Newsletter will be entirely full of good news only. Seriously. For a few minutes, at least, ignore the headlines and turn away from the TV.

new members.jpg

Here’s some exciting news — the last two weeks, a total of 12 people have joined the church! And I hear a rumor that we will have even more joining this coming Sunday! I’m not sure exactly what has caused this mini-surge, but obviously we’re experiencing some energy and excitement. I think it’s related to the fact that people are discovering that KPUMC is an authentic community of faith, where you can be yourself and yet also grow into the likeness of Christ.

Speaking of this Sunday morning, we’ll also celebrate the baptism of Preston Lynndon West, son of Chad West and Brad Bleeker. Baptisms always fill me with hope, because they remind me that God has claimed each of us; God has marked us with a symbol that transcends race, gender, culture, language, and nationality.

Unfortunately, this Sunday we’ll also be saying farewell to Norlynn Price … wait, wait! This edition is supposed to be good news only, so — never mind! Forget what I just wrote there.

I’m also excited these days about a new adult Sunday School class that has started in the chapel. John Ogren is leading this group, which last week, had an inaugural class of nine people. Some of the couples came because there is now a Sunday School program for pre-kindergarten kids in the nursery, led by Wendy Ogren. Thanks to the Ogren’s for helping facilitate expanded ministries in the church!

Last week, we launched our fall Wednesday Night Live programming with a delicious fried chicken meal. Two adult groups meet after that —  one is a new lay pastoral care group, headed up by Mike Smith and Ken Kelley; the other is a new Social Justice team, led by Susan Baxley. Two more ways in which KPUMC will be making a difference in our community in the future!

After last night’s Wednesday Night dinner, children and youth assembled the flood buckets gathered and donated by church members over the last few weeks. These buckets will be packaged and sent to UMCOR’s depot in Louisiana for use in the flood-affected areas of south Texas, as disaster recovery efforts unfold … oh wait, sorry — I’m veering toward bad news again …

OK then, can I also mention that it was great having a contingent of KPUMC members at the Dallas Pride Parade last Sunday? It was an extremely warm and muggy afternoon, and the parade started late, BUT regardless, it was inspiring to walk with the members of the other Reconciling churches in Dallas as one group together, committed in our affirmation of our LGBTQ neighbors. People along the parade route were truly encouraged and excited to see Christians walking to show their support.

Oh, and I just learned today that the Reconciling churches received the 2017 Dallas Pride Parade Category Award for “Best Social Commentary”! See, isn’t that good news?!

May the rest of your day — and week — be filled with news that is hopeful, life-affirming, positive, and optimistic.